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Chapter 2: Persuasiveness
It was a deep forest thick with layers upon layers of grass and trees. Faint beams of afternoon sunlight shone into the wood. Birds were chirping quietly.
A doe and her fawn stood side-by-side feeding on the grass. Slowly, they savored their meal.
Suddenly, the doe raised her head. Her fawn was still busy with the grass. The bush shook and trembled, and a human popped out.
The doe froze on the spot. The human, equally taken aback, instinctively held up a persuader.
The human was still young—around 15 years of age, or perhaps less. The human was in muddied blue pants and a somewhat thick green jacket, a hat with ear flaps, and—for some reason—a pair of goggles. The eyes behind the goggles were stiff, as though trembling in fear.
The human watched the deer scramble away and exhaled. A moment’s rest later, the human broke into a run. The persuader in her hand was a slide-action shotgun with a tube-shaped magazine under the barrel.
Soon, the human slid behind a thick tree trunk. Then she took aim at the direction she had come from. Her large eyes widening, she stilled her breath and scanned her surroundings.
The bushes shook softly. The human reflexively opened fire. Leaves flew into the air in time with the gunshot. There was no one behind the bush.
The human clicked her tongue and leapt out from cover. With her left hand she operated the grip under the barrel. A slug casing flew into the air, and another slug was loaded.
Ducking, without even looking back, the human turned and ran with all she had. Without realizing what was happening, she repeated the same set of actions again and again.
Without warning, a smile came over her partly-obscured face.
“Calm down, Kino. Never lose your composure. Fear and panic can come after you’re safe,” she said to herself.
The human called Kino smiled and fixed her grip on her persuader. She took out a slug from a pouch at her waist and loaded the magazine.
Then, Kino took aim with the persuader securely in both hands and closed her eyes—almost as though she were meditating under the tree.
Many seconds passed in silence.
Something stepped on the grass. It was not far.
Rustle. Again. Louder this time.
Rustle. Again. Closer this time.
Rustle. Again. Kino slowly opened her eyes.
Rustle. Kino pointed her persuader almost at once. And she opened fire.
The slug penetrated several blades of grass. A bush off to the left shook. Kino loaded the next slug and took aim. But the moment her finger was on the trigger, she spotted in the shade of a tree to her right a pair of hands—and the persuader in them, aimed directly at her. Kino rushed to adjust her aim, but a second before she found her mark, her opponent pulled the trigger.
The shot landed square on Kino’s forehead and bounced off. It hit a branch and bounced back up again before landing on the ground a distance away.
“How was that, Kino?”
The shooter emerged from behind a tree. An old woman with a serene smile. She had a slender build and beautiful silver hair tied into a neat ponytail. The old woman wore a form-fitting shirt and pants, with a light green cardigan. And just like Kino, she wore a pair of goggles and held a large-caliber revolver-type persuader in her hand.
“Painful. More for my pride than my head,” Kino replied, looking up with a hand rubbing her forehead.
The old woman pulled off Kino’s goggles and hat. The shot had left a small, bleeding graze where it landed. The old woman took out a small roll of bandages and a tiny bottle of disinfectant from Kino’s jacket and performed first aid, sticking the soaked bandages on Kino’s head.
“You have to take good care of your looks, especially since you’re still young,” said the old woman, smiling gently.
“Welcome back,” said a motorrad parked by a narrow road in the woods as Kino and the old woman made their way out of the bushes.
“Thank you for waiting, Hermes,” the old woman said. The motorrad called Hermes then spoke to the downcast Kino. “Where?”
Without a word, Kino pointed at her forehead, which was covered by her hat.
“I suppose you still have a long way to go,” said the old woman. “Now let’s go on back and prepare dinner.” She put her revolver inside the handbag she had loaded on Hermes.
Kino handed her persuader to the old woman before climbing on Hermes and starting the engine. The forest was filled with rumbling.
The wold woman sat sideways on the cushioned back seat. Kino slowly started Hermes.
“Don’t be so down, Kino,” Hermes said along the way. But Kino still said nothing. The old woman sat behind her, as calm as ever.
Some time later, Kino stopped Hermes without warning. Hermes muttered, “I’d say about three.”
They were still on the forest path, but the woods ended on one side a little further ahead, giving way to fields. Further in the distance was a small house.
“Is the gunfluid merchant due today?” Kino asked, turning.
The old woman shook her head. “No, he’s not scheduled to be here. …Kino, get off Hermes.”
“When I give the signal, you will immobilize them. But leave one so he can speak.”
The old woman handed Kino the persuader she used earlier.
“I…I don’t know if I can.”
“If anything should go wrong, I will be there to help. Practice makes perfect.”
Kino was hesitant. But the old woman smiled.
“Don’t you want to become strong, Kino?”
Kino received the persuader and deftly disappeared into the forest.
The old woman moved up to the rider’s seat. The moment she grabbed the handlebars, Hermes whispered, “Er, please don’t let me tip over.”
The old woman nodded. And she put her hands over the levers.
“Not to worry, Hermes. I have the controls memorized. This is the brake and this is the clutch, correct?”
“Other way around.”
The little log cabin stood on the boundary between the forest and the field.
And at the entrance stood three men who were clearly thieves. A fat one, a skinny one, and a scarred one. The men each held long revolver-type persuaders. Their horses were tied to the entrance.
When the men spotted the motorrad sputtering along and the old woman riding it, they burst out laughing.
The old woman somehow managed to stop Hermes before the cabin. Hermes had to remind her, “No, use that foot to lower the—”
“This? Oh, the protruding bit here, I see. I think I finally have this down, Hermes.”
“That’s right. Oh, but we’re on soft ground now so you have to use the center stand—”
The old woman managed to lower the side stand. She picked up her handbag and climbed off Hermes. The side stand slowly began sliding into the ground, and in a moment’s notice Hermes was on his side with a loud noise.
“This is cruel and unusual punishment,” Hermes groaned.
One of the thieves said loudly, “You live here, old bag?”
The old woman nodded, greeting the men. “What an unusual group of guests you are. Let me get you some tea.”
The thieves snorted. “Forget the tea. Bring out all your valuables. Shut up and do what we say, and we’ll let you live. If not…”
“If not, you’re going to hit the ground before you can blink.”
“You’re threatening me, is that it?” the old woman asked, as if in confirmation.
“Are you senile? Of course we are!”
The old woman then held out her handbag. “I can hear you, Kino. Do it.”
Kino leapt out of the woods and opened fire. The rubber slugs struck the fat man in the head, knocking him to the ground with a groan. Then Kino lunged into the tall man’s chest and struck him in the groin with her persuader, then swiveled around to shoot him in the jaw and finished him off with an uppercut. Then she used the fallen man as a shield as she shot the scarred man’s hands.
“Wha…?” The scarred man gasped, dropping his weapon and cradling his aching hands. His friends were out cold on the ground. Kino’s aim remained trained on him.
The old woman finally spoke again. “Pardon me…”
“Ah!” the man shouted.
“No need to be scared, sir. We have no intention of killing you. But in exchange…”
“Hand over all your valuables.”
“You must have some, if you’ve robbed other houses before coming here. Now hand over all your valuables. If not…”
The old woman smiled. “Do I really need to finish that sentence?”
The man shook his head again and again.
“This is evil,” Hermes mumbled, still lying on the ground.
“Half a day’s walk from here, you’ll find a river. It’s shallow enough that you can cross on horseback. You are not to look back until you have reached that river,” the old woman finally said. The thieves went pale and disappeared.
Curious, Kino watched them depart.
The old woman came up to her, carrying a breadbasket full of jewels and bracelets. “Excellent work, Kino. Now let’s start making dinner.”
As master and apprentice turned and headed inside, Hermes called out from behind them. “Someone prop me back up, please?”
That evening, Kino came out into the backyard with an axe in hand. Hermes stood next to the window.
A short distance away was a mound of firewood and tree stumps cut diagonally.
“Hermes,” Kino said, picking out firewood.
“Why do you think those people decided to become thieves when they’re so weak?”
Hermes could not answer.
“It’s kind of weird to say this, but wouldn’t you get worried for them, doing work that’s so far beyond them?”
Hermes looked at Kino, who still seemed genuinely confused. “It wasn’t like they were weak, Kino…”
“Hm?” Kino turned. There was a small bruise on her forehead.
“No, never mind. You should get back to chopping firewood.”
Kino went back to where Hermes stood, then threw her hand axe at the firewood.
The axe spun twice in the air and struck the firewood, chopping it clean in half.